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Recently I had to refit the stem on my full carbon fork as I tried different stem heights. When adjusting the headset I initially tightened the top cap way too much because the fork was still pretty well compressed inside the steerer tube so I couldn't feel any real drag to remove the play. So I tightened the top cap with the long end of a hex key basically until there wasn't anymore screw movement. I mean I didn't crank it up like crazy but definitely tightened it until it was snug and not just finger tight like it has to be. I quickly noticed the binding bearings and drag in steering so I immediately backed off the screw and started from scratch. Pulling on the fork a little helped to release the compression, create some play which I then was able to remove systematically.

How likely is it that the bearings or integrated crown race could have suffered any damage? The steering motion is still perfectly smooth (I regreased the bearings a little as the fork was already pulled a little) and I couldn't see any damage in the fork except some indentations I'm pretty sure were there from the beginning and caused by the bearing sitting on top of the crown race.

I guess actually riding the bike with the headset too tight could easily create damage. But how is the stress created from this first adjustment attempt compared to the forces when actually riding the biking with a correctly adjusted headset? I think the riders weight is carried by the lower bearing and also a lot of stress caused by bumps, potholes and the like?

integrated crown race

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The damage may be in the form of brinelling, where you put dents in your races from the bearings. This feels "notchy" when turning. However your integrated race looks fine.

You can also chip or crack a bearing ball such that it is no longer round. This would also cause on-going damage if the bearings were not replaced.

Adjusting bearing preload is a fine art, and briefly going too-tight is not the end of the world. Just don't go riding like that.

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    I certainly think the headset system and fork should be fine. As far as excess preload goes, the long end of a hex wrench surely shouldn't be capable of imparting a force that's capable of damage. Especially given the presence of well protected cartridge bearings. I dare say one could apply enough force to fold out the star-fangled nut from the steer tube and still have a perfectly fine headset. Maybe a funny looking top cap.
    – Jeff
    Jun 21, 2023 at 6:09
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    Yup, I think you all are right and it's probably fine. To be more precise: I used the long end of the hex wrench as the lever but didn't forcefully crank it tight. Definitely really tight but not like crazy and I immediately backed off when the screw was snug. I think I was just waiting for removing any play which wasn't there because the system was still compressed pretty good. Lesson learned.
    – conste
    Jun 22, 2023 at 12:15

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